"A Spearfish Lake Story"
It had been a long day. As the evening wore on, the fire burned lower. No one made any move to add more wood, since it would just tempt everyone into staying up longer and talk with their friends. As the flames flickered low, the yawns began to get more pronounced. Finally, John announced that he didnít know about anyone else, but he was ready to bag it, and in a couple minutes he and Candice said their goodnights and headed off for their tent. That set everyone else to going, and as the flames began to flicker out, soon only Josh and Tiffany were left sitting by the fire.
"You ready for bed yet, Tiff?" Josh asked.
"Not really," she said. "Itís just nice to sit here all relaxed and look at the stars."
"Yeah," he said. "Itís almost like a clear night in Alaska. We donít see them like this in town."
"And itís a lot warmer than it would be in Alaska," she said.
They sat silently for a while, and finally Tiffany spoke up. "Thatís really something about Jennifer and Blake, isnít it?"
"Yeah," Josh said, keeping his voice low. They werenít that far, and voices would carry on a still night like this. "Somehow, you donít think of them as mommy and daddy types."
"Oh, theyíll do fine," she said. "Whatever they do, they take seriously, and they apparently have decided to take this seriously."
"I dunno," Josh said. "Somehow, I donít see Jennifer making cookies for the PTA bake sale."
"Well, no," Tiffany laughed. "Blake would make them."
They both laughed at that. Josh got up and poked around in the fire with a stick, making it flame up a little, and then went over and sat down next to Tiffany so they could talk in low tones and not have to struggle to hear.
"Yeah, I suppose things will be a little different, there," Josh said softly. "Thatís got to change things for them."
"Well, it would change things for us, too," Tiffany said pensively. "All evening long, Iíve been thinking about that."
"Me, too," Josh admitted. "I just canít see us doing the race and having small kids. Either of us."
"Yeah," she agreed. "Iíve thought about it off and on since we got back this spring. I donít think we want to get started having babies this year, but we probably shouldnít put it off too many more years."
Josh had been thinking about it, too, and now Jenniferís example had just made the thoughts more sharp. "We need to phase out of the Iditarod before we get started whelping kids," he said. "But, you know, Iím about halfway ready to just say screw it for this year, too. I think itíll be something of a relief to have it behind us."
"I do want to give it one last all-out shot next year, like I said," she replied. "But, maybe we can think about you getting me pregnant right after the race next year, and thatíll give us both an excuse to not run the year after that."
"Are you looking forward to it? I mean, from a male viewpoint, it seems like such a hassle."
"Well, it strikes me as a hassle, too," she said. "But I guess from my viewpoint itís a hassle thatís worth it, and I really donít want to put it off forever. This way, we at least get a year to work out how to phase down the kennel and reorganize the business."
"Yeah, Candice should be a big help," Josh said. "With a baby coming on in the foreseeable future, and trying to build up the trips side of the business, weíre still going to be busy, but maybe not so frantically busy."
"I hope she works out," Tiffany said. "I think she will. I didnít mean to drop it on her like that, but it just came around to the subject, and it seemed like an ideal time to do it. But I really wanted to talk to her about it before approaching her like I did."
"I think sheíll add a lot," Josh said. "I thought so when you first mentioned asking her about it. We tend to be a little disorganized with the store, and sheíll run a tight ship."
"Oh, sheíll manage that part just fine," she agreed. "But I still have the concern that I had at the beginning. Sheís older than you and me, ten years older than me; sheís worked in a big outfit and can be very businesslike, very straight. How well is she going to get along working for us? This is kind of a blue-jeans business after all, pretty casual. Is she going to be able to adapt to it? Is she going to be able to learn everything she needs to know about all the different stuff we deal with? Is a boss ten years younger going to cause her problems with us? Is she going to sort of resent it? Or, is she maybe just not going to take it as seriously as she should?"
"No way of telling without going there and finding out," Josh told his wife. "My guess is that sheíll work out fine. She seems to be taking an interest in kayaking, and she wants to try some other stuff. Six will get you two weíll get some training miles on a sled out of her this fall. Maybe not many, but some. I suspect she already knows as much about bikes as we do. If she doesnít work out, well, I guess that means that our plans for pulling out of the racing will be moved up, and weíll get along somehow. If it does work out, well, maybe as we buy pieces of the business back from Phil, we can give her some of them."
"Well, maybe," Tiffany said. "It was good of Phil to front us the money, or weíd never have been able to set up the store in the first place, but itís made me a little nervous, too. Not that Phil isnít a nice guy, and not that he didnít give us a great deal and has been a lot of help, but itís made me feel a little guilty about not giving the store my full attention."
"Yeah, well, me too," Josh agreed. "But weíve done at least as well as weíd expected, and maybe better."
The fire flickered low, and finally out, with only the live coals giving light to the two of them as they sat there, just looking out over the lake.
"You know what?" Tiffany said. "I really donít want to think about the store tonight, or the tours, or the dogs. We came out here to get away from it for a while, remember?"
"Yeah," he said. "But it seems like thatís all we do, if you add the railroad and the house, and sometimes it seems like we need to get away from all that and get on with our lives."
"Thereís no way we can get away from all of it, not permanently," she agreed. "But itís fun to try once in a while. Iíd just like to snuggle up next to you for a while, and maybe we can go in and practice making a baby."
"I thought you said you wanted to put that off till maybe next spring," he smiled.
"Oh, we couldnít do it tonight, unless the pill was to fail," she smiled. "But that doesnít mean we canít practice."
"Blake, would you mind if we didnít go to bed just yet?" Jennifer asked as they got down to their tent on the far tip of the little island. "Iíd just like to sit up and look at the stars for a few minutes."
"Fine with me, honey," he said. After all these years, it still seemed strange to call her that, but it was getting more comfortable. They stood there for a moment, looking out across the lake. Finally, he sat down with his back up against a tree, and in a minute, Jennifer came and sat down in front of him and leaned back, her head on his shoulder. Far in the distance, to one side of them, they could see the glow of the town in the sky, and it seemed far away.
"So, how did you think it went?" she said in a small voice.
"I think everybody was surprised, but happy for you," he said. "Oh, happy for me, too, but mostly happy for you."
"Blake, are you happy with it?" It wasnít the first time in the last weeks sheíd asked that question. He had been no less surprised than she had been when sheíd told him the news of the visit to Dr. Metarie. It was clear that he hadnít been considering the possibility of her getting pregnant any more than she had been.
"I find as I get over the surprise, Iím happy about it," he said. "I just never expected to be a father, so itís taking a little while to get used to the idea, but now that Iíve come to grips with it, Iím looking forward to the experience. How about you? The real you, the part you didnít tell down there."
"Iím happy with it," she said. "I guess Iím a little scared about what happens. I guess Iím mostly scared about what happens with us."
"What it means," Blake smiled, letting his hand slide down to rest lightly on her breast, "Is that weíve turned normal, both of us. I donít think either of us had been expecting that to ever happen."
"Yeah," she laughed. "Isnít that a kick in the slats? For a dozen years, weíve been the closest friends that friends could be, and now weíve fallen in love."
"I didnít see it coming, either," he said, still amazed in several ways that this incredible woman would be bearing his child. "But Iím glad it did."
It hadnít taken the discovery of Jenniferís pregnancy to change their relationship more than they could have ever imagined. That process had started clear back in April, the night after Brandyís wedding, and had intensified while theyíd been on tour. Their relationship had always been an odd one, although they had been comfortable with it, they had been a pair of friends who happened to have been of different genders, rather than that of lovers. Although they were deeply devoted to each other, no one, not even them, could have said they were in love. While they had shared a house with each other all that time, they had never been physical with each other, and had never even shared a bed since that time in California, and now they couldnít imagine not doing it.
In a period of only days, a whole new world had opened to them, a world they had seen in others but always shunned for themselves. By the time they returned from the tour, not only had they become lovers, they were deeply in love in a way they had never been before. It was a major change for them, used to the habits of a decade or more, and they were still learning to adapt to it when Jenniferís pregnancy put another new spin on it.
"Iím glad it did, too," she said. "I had no idea what Iíd been missing all this time."
"Me either," he said. "Iím sorry that it took us this long to find out, but I suspect that we needed the time."
"Youíre probably right," she said with a sigh. "If this had happened that time in California, it wouldnít have worked out this way. I guess we both needed the time to get older and wiser."
"It would have been a lot different, thatís for sure," he agreed. "Oh, Iíd have stuck by you, but it wouldnít have been the same. I was still pretty bent, then."
She rolled a little bit, so she could get her arm around him, while still letting her head lay on his shoulder. "That bothers me a little," she said. "Not about you, but there are going to be people that remember us from back then, and sooner or later the word is going to get out."
"So what if it does?" he said. "What I was once is one thing, but people change. It wonít be long before Iíll be able to point at my gorgeous wife with her swollen belly if anyone questions if Iím all the man I ought to be. If I happen to wonder about it, Iíll have the same answer."
"Youíre right," she said, caressing him with her free hand. "Weíre both getting very conventional, arenít we? Itíll just say that Iím all the woman I need to be to do the job, too, doesnít it? But what if it comes out in Spearfish Lake, not just on the coast or Nashville or the tabloids?"
"I was talking about Spearfish Lake," he said. "Those other places donít matter, anyway. This is where we live. If it comes out, it comes out, and I donít think it matters that much anymore. Or, at least, it wonít matter in another few months."
"I donít know," she said. "Weíve kept that in the closet for so long, I donít know that we want to let it out."
He laid his head on hers and continued talking softly. "Well, I donít want to shout it from the housetops or publish a big article in the Record-Herald, but thereís nothing left in the closet to hide but old memories that are all dried up and best left in the past. To be practical, you have Ė well, we have Ė mostly kept to ourselves and tried to keep our personal lives private, and ignore the horseshit that gets published in the tabloids. And, itís worked, and we know it works. This is no different."
"Youíre right, I suppose," she sighed. "I suppose we have to keep that the same, even though so much else about us has changed."
"Jennifer, not that much has changed," he said. "You know, I canít really find the words to say it, but I guess Iíve loved you for a long time, since way back before that time in California. Now, I just love you more than ever, but now, I can say it."
"Oh, God, Blake, I know it," she said, trying to pull him closer. "Iíve known it for years, and Iíve loved you just as long, but I just couldnít say it that way. If it took all this to make it possible for me to say it, I guess it was worth it, but God, Blake, I love you and Iím just glad I can say it now, too."
Phil realized that he had made a mistake in telling Tiffany to skip bringing one of the rental tents for Brandy and himself; heíd brought his backpacking tent, instead, and it was a lot smaller than the already snug rental tents. With the two of them in the tent, it was snug, cozy, intimate Ė and it was also downright crowded.
He and Brandy had done some camping out years before, working on the archeological digs with Rod Matson that seemed a lifetime before, and kicking around in their house were two cheap sleeping bags that would zip together. They would be adequate for this warm summer night, but they absolutely filled the "two man" backpacking tent. So, once the fire had burned low and people began heading off to bed, he and Brandy took advantage of the darkness outside to strip naked before crawling into the cramped confines of the tent. Phil let Brandy crawl into the tent first, and once he was inside immediately found himself in her arms.
Jenniferís announcement had made Brandy uneasy Ė not for them, but she knew it was going to make her face another issue. Much like Blake and Jennifer, she and Phil had never faced up to the prospect of parenthood. Oh, she knew that her biological clock was ticking, but she never really paid attention to it. She knew that there was going to have to be some serious discussion of it with Phil in the weeks to come, but there were other problems that had to be solved first.
Candice was a good mother, Brandy thought. She got along well with her children, and was devoted to them, and it seemed to come naturally to her, but she couldnít imagine doing it herself, without going nuts in the process. Clearly, there was going to have to be some reconsideration there.
"Tell me," she said in a very low voice, "Did you ever dream that would happen?"
"Nope," Phil said. "God, do you remember what Blake was like when we first met him? Mister Gay Pride himself?"
"Jennifer must have worn him down, like you said." It was darker than the inside of a cow in the tent, but Phil could feel his wife grin. "You know, back when that thing with Tara happened."
"I thought something strange was going on today," he replied, still in a low voice. "I guess that was it."
"I donít follow you."
"Itís a body-language thing, and Iím not sure I understand it myself," Phil said. "Theyíve always been very close to each other, but very cool. Tell me, before today, have you ever seen them hug each other, hold hands, or kiss each other?"
Brandy was silent for a moment. "Now that you mention it, no," she said. "But they sure seemed like the lovebirds today. Holding hands, kissing, the whole bit, but very cool and casual. I guess I didnít flash on it till you mentioned it."
"I didnít flash on it until after she told us," Phil said. "I donít remember it happening when we were at that party at John and Candiceís a few weeks ago. That doesnít mean it didnít happen, it just means that I donít remember."
"That was probably before she found out she was pregnant," Brandy theorized. "But they seem happy with it."
"I think they are," Phil said. "Of course, with them, itís always a little hard to tell. But if they were surprised, and Iíd bet they were, Iíd guess it took them a little while to figure it out."
"Figure out if they were happy or not?"
"Yeah. Think about it. Theyíve always had a pretty strange relationship. People used to call the way we lived strange, but we had nothing on them, and that was after Blake quit acting like he was gay." He laughed.
"Whatís so funny?"
"Iím just thinking that the kid is going to have some interesting role models to grow up with. I donít know if itís because he was gay, or because he was the employee, but thereís no question who wears the pants in that household, and who the wife is. Iíve always found it a little funny, and now, itís even more so. The kid is going to wonder which one Mommy is."
"I donít think itís going to be like that," she said, shifting her position a little bit to draw him closer. "It just looks funny since they are very private people."
"No, itís Jennifer whoís in charge, and thereís no question about it. You could see it tonight. She was the one who made the announcement, and Blake just supported her. They may talk about things, but what she decides, goes. Like I said, sheís the one who wears the pants in that relationship."
"I guess youíre right," Brandy said, thinking back. "Blake is a little more independent of her than he was a few years ago, but not much. His entire focus is on her, and her focus is on what theyíre doing. I guess I hadnít thought of it that way."
He was silent for so long that she thought he might have fallen asleep. "Phil?" she finally whispered.
"Just a second, Iím thinking," he said, and was silent for quite a bit longer before he whispered, "Yeah, thatís it."
"Whatís it?" Brandy asked quietly, wondering what her husband had been thinking. It was still strange to think of Phil as her husband, but she was getting used to it.
"You know why this group is so interesting? Itís because we have four different couples, and four totally different dynamics to our relationships. Four totally different ways we react to each other. It makes for an interesting variety."
"Phil, Iím not following you well at all tonight. Youíre way out in la-la land somewhere."
"No, itís real," he said with a chuckle. "Look, compare Blake and Jennifer to John and Candice. We know that Jennifer wears the pants in their relationship. With John and Candice, thereís no question whoís the mommy and whoís the daddy. A very traditional relationship, right?"
"Well, yeah," Brandy said. "They talk stuff over, but on important decisions, itís John who does the deciding. Is that what you mean?"
"Thatís it exactly. Iím sure theyíre so comfortable with it that theyíve never even thought about it. Itís natural to them, and I donít think either of them would consider doing it any other way. Itís just the way they fit together. Candice is a nice person, and goes her own way a little, but on their family decisions, itís usually John who gets what he wants. Remember how they decided to stay behind this afternoon?"
"Hell, you could have had a head cold and have smelled the hots they had for each other," Brandy snickered. "When we got back, even I could see that there had been some serious one-on-one going on."
"Right," Phil laughed. "Candice really had the look of a woman who has just had her bones seriously jumped on. Oh, she tried to cover it up a little, but it was like a cat trying to cover on a linoleum floor. But who made the decision to take advantage of the situation? Iíll give you a hint. It wasnít Candice. She just followed through the hole that John opened for them."
"So who wears the pants with Josh and Tiffany?"
"Actually, thatís pretty interesting, because they both do, but theyíre pretty careful how they do it with each other. They do a lot of stuff together. When itís something that one is more competent at, the other defers to their decision, but where theyíre equally competent, like in dogsledding, they sit and thrash out their differences until a consensus is agreed on, and sometimes that takes a while. Thatís part of whatís taking them so long to come to a decision on next year, Iíll bet. But other things, like today, they let the more appropriate person take point. Like this trip. While this is just a group of friends, we all, including Josh, pretty much do what Tiffany wants, when she wants to, because we all know she leads trips like this professionally."
"Well, yeah, I can see that."
"You want to bet that when theyíre both out on the railroad, when Josh says to her to go out and throw a switch or something, that she just doesnít hop right down and do it without wondering whoís boss?"
"Of course she would. There, he is the boss," she said, pointing out the obvious.
"My point exactly."
"All right, Mister Smartass Psychologist," Brandy laughed quietly. "Who wears the pants with you and me?"
Phil patted his wifeís bare bottom and said, "Well, neither of us."
"I mean, when we arenít in bed."
"Neither of us," Phil said seriously. "That may be why it took so long for both of us to get married. Weíre so used to going off and doing our own thing that we really donít care a whole hell of a lot what the other person thinks. If the other person is interested in following along, they do. If not, they donít, and go off and do something else. If we had a big decision come along that affected both of us, weíd probably sit down and talk it out, but we donít let those kinds of decisions come up very often, right?"
"Yeah, youíre right," she admitted. "When you put it that way, it doesnít sound very good."
"Itís good for us, because it works for us. Itís the kind of people we are, and the way our relationship has evolved. Itís not a way that would work for anyone else on this island, but it reflects the kind of people we are. And thatís the way it is for everyone. Every one of us has been together as a couple for a long time, although only John and Candice have been married for a real long time. You and I go back fifteen years, and itís about that or a little less for Blake and Jennifer, and I think thatís longer than John and Candice have been a couple. Josh and Tiffany go back almost that far, although she was only ten years old when they first became buddies, so she had the chance to grow into the role, and Josh, I must admit, let her develop into her own person."
He laughed again. "Whatís so funny now?" Brandy asked
"I was just thinking. Suppose God were to step down out of the sky right now, and was to say, ĎOK, itís time to change partners for the next fifteen years.í Who do you pick?"
Brandy was silent for a moment. "I donít see what youíre getting at," she said. "Just for the sake of discussion, letís say itís John."
"Bad choice, for you," Phil said. "Remember, heís used to being the authority side of the relationship. Your independence would be continually grinding on him, and his attempts at control would be grinding on you. Actually, if my theory is correct, your only good choice would be Blake."
"Because heís used to having a woman boss him around, youíre saying?"
"Not quite, but pretty close," Phil explained, still thinking. "Heíd be used to having a woman taking the lead, and then following her."
"All right, smartass, who do you wind up with?" she snickered.
"Well, probably my only choice would be Candice," he said. "I might be able to get along with Tiffany, but Jennifer is much too used to being the boss."
"So, who does Jennifer wind up with?"
"Weíve ruled out me, and weíve ruled out Blake, by definition," Phil said. "That leaves Josh and John. Iíd vote for Josh. That would leave John and Tiffany. Neither couple would be as good a fit as your and my new partners, but both Josh and Tiffany are used to letting someone else take the lead if necessary."
"Itís kind of fun to consider," she said. "But Iíd really rather not get into beach blanket bingo."
"Well, me either," Phil smiled. "Youíre a much better fit for me than Candice, although she does have a pleasant personality, a nice body and a helluva head of hair. But I married you because of the fact that youíre you, and we fit each other like no one else could."
"Phil, you say the most romantic things," she laughed, feeling for his face in the dark so she could figure out where to kiss him.